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Book Announcement

I’m pleased to announce today that I have reached an agreement with Viking Penguin to write a book on how to invent a language called just that: How to Invent a Language. Needless to say, this is a dream come true. :) I’m working with editor Elda Rotor, and am basically going to put as much into this book as they’ll let me stuff in there (and if I can’t fit something in, hopefully it will serve as material for future work). There will be some material from the Game of Thrones and Defiance languages—as well as from languages by other conlangers—but the focus will be on the nuts and bolts of language design. No single book can make you an expert, but my hope is that after working through this one, you’ll know where to start if you want to create a language, what questions to ask, and where to research if you need more.

On my end, I’m being represented by Joanna Volpe from New Leaf Literary and Media, Inc., and for that I have to thank Leigh Bardugo, author of Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm of the Grisha Trilogy, plus the capper, Ruin and Rising, coming out June 3rd (my mother’s birthday!). Those who’ve been following this blog before it even existed will remember Leigh as having attended the first ever presentation on Dothraki back at WorldCon in 2011, and having a word coined in her honor. She now has two, of course (bardugon is the verb for “to write” in High Valyrian), but it means a lot to me that Leigh has remembered me over the years (lol it’s literally been years. That’s crazy), and was able to help me out here. Leigh is veiled in cascading swaths of fabulousness, but underneath it all, she’s a wonderful and kind person, and I’m happy to have her as a friend. (Of course, she’s wonderful and kind even if you don’t know her, so when it comes to Leigh, it’s really win-win.)

Of direct relevance to this blog is the fact that I’m going to be taking a serious step back—something regular readers may have already noticed, since this process started last year. I’ve got one more major High Valyrian post coming, but after that there may be next to nothing here for several months. I’ve got a big job ahead of me, and I’m going to need to take the time to do it, because I want to give this book my best work. I may come back and do my weekly Game of Thrones recaps depending on how my workflow goes, but I may not. It depends how the next couple months go. Either way, 2015 should be an exciting year—and should be a lot less busy for me—so I’ll definitely return to regular posting here in the future.

I want to say a big thank you to those who read this blog regularly, those who’ve been following me on Twitter and Tumblr and who’ve expressed interest in the Game of Thrones and Defiance languages, and those everywhere who in general have supported the TV and movie franchises that have used created languages. The fact of the matter is this book wouldn’t have become a reality if no one cared. There would be no languages for Defiance or other shows like Star-Crossed and Dominion if the fans weren’t interested in there being any—or worse, if they hated them. I know that a number of people wanted a book from me dedicated specifically to Dothraki, specifically to High Valyrian, specifically to Castithan, etc., and that this isn’t that. This is a first step, though. If this project goes well—if I do a good job and the book sells well—it may open the gates for further work—and not just by me, but by other conlangers. Hopefully this is the start of something big, not the conclusion of a movement.

Either way, I feel incredibly privileged to be in this position. Of course I wouldn’t be here without the Language Creation Society, and the Language Creation Society wouldn’t have been in the position it was without Arika Okrent—but, of course, Arika Okrent wouldn’t have sent Dave and Dan to the Language Creation Society if she hadn’t attended the Second Language Creation Conference, and there would be no Language Creation Conference if the conlang community (and specifically the Conlang Listserv) hadn’t come together to make it happen. This project is dedicated to the community that produced me. I hope I make them proud.

Qilōnario Geron

Duh-nuh, duh-nuh, duh-nuh, duh-nuh… THE BEAR AND THE MAIDEN FAIR! Duh-nuh, duh-nuh, duh-nuh, duh-nuh…

All right, I know I work on the show, and it’s outstanding, and I love everybody, and everything is just super 100% awesome, but…seriously, man, ki fin yeni with that outro music? That was one of the most discordant moments of television I’ve experienced in a long, long time. First a scene that must have absolutely shocked viewers unfamiliar with the books, and then cut to spring breeeeeeeeeaaaak! Definitely good for a laugh, though.

There were a lot of magnificent bits in 303. The chair scene was a wonderful bit of absurd theater (and I’ll take anything I can get with Tywin Lannister). If you didn’t see Hot Pie’s wonderful dire wolf confection, here you are:

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

The funeral in the beginning was genius (that would’ve been me shooting the arrows the first time, by the way. If I were any character in Game of Thrones, that is me all over). And despite what they think over at Winter Is Coming, I loved the scene with Pod, Bronn and Tyrion. Boy’s got game, son! If you can’t step to that, best step off, you feel me?

But I’d like to highlight one scene in particular that I thought was awesome: Stannis and Melisandre. Man! That shoulder’s so cold she got Stannis turning on the AC to warm up! Maybe it was just me, but I was mightily entertained by just how much she was obviously not into Stannis at all. Maybe Jorah has some company coming his way in the Friend Zone, because that was brutal. Reminded me of seventh grade. Very, very well played by Ms. van Houten!

Today we had some more Astapori Valyrian. It was a great scene and very well played—including by the new actor who played the fellow sitting next to Kraznys. (Does anyone know his name—both the character and the actor? He’s just referred to as “Master Slaver” in my sides.) EDIT: The character is Greizhen mo Ullhor, and he’s portrayed by Clifford Barry. (Great job, Mr. Barry!) I could not follow precisely how things got broken up. For example, when Kraznys is going over exactly how many Unsullied he’d give Dany for her Dothraki, etc., it was written up as one long speech. That speech, though, was broken up a bit and delivered in bits here and there, rather than a monologue, so I’m not sure if there’s anything that got cut. Here are a few of the lines from the exchange, though (the ones I remember got in). This is a line from Missandei:

  • Ebas pon sindigho uni.
  • “She wants to buy them all.”

Now for a word I had fun inventing: the word for dragon (and, no, it’s not related to drakarys. I already roll my eyes enough at the “drak” in that word). Continuing Missandei:

  • Ivetras sko o tebozlivas me zaldrize.
  • “She says she will give you a dragon.”

And I don’t remember what of Kraznyz’ reply stayed in… I’ll have to watch it again on HBO Go. I do remember he got to say this:

  • Ivetra zer ebi ji rovaja.
  • “Tell her we want the biggest one.”

Yes, I had fun with this language. Ji rovaja is “the biggest (one)”, and if you know my sense of phonaesthetics, a word like that is like David Bowie wearing something like this:

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Pure decadence. I shamelessly wallow in it.

It occurs to me that stress is not nearly as predictable in Astapori Valyrian… I should probably mark the non-predictable stresses, but that’d require some back-tracking. As a general note, though, commands are stressed word-finally (so ivetrá, for example).

Finally, this is Missandei’s last line:

  • Pindas sko ji yn tebila, va me rudhy. Pindas sko gomila kizi sir.
  • “She asks that you give me to her, as a present. She asks that you do this now.”

Above, for example, tebila and gomila are basically the same construction, but tebila has penultimate stress and gomila has antepenultimate stress. The latter is the odd one.

I’d like to close with a couple of comments. First, check out the transcription project undertaken by Mad Latinist over at his LiveJournal. I haven’t been able to do as much this season because of outside commitments (for example, I’m going to miss the Monday Dothraki chat again, but this should be the last one [well, until LCC5, for which I will probably miss the Dothraki chat yet again]). I feel like there’s going to be enough by the end of the season to put together a fair bit on both Valyrian variants, though—certainly enough to beef up a Wikipedia article, I think.

Second, there is something from the books I’d like to address directly, because I’m utterly baffled by the interpretation. The following excerpt comes from A Feast for Crows (note: this may be slightly spoilerly if you know the context; if you don’t, it should be fairly meaningless):

“What fools we were, who thought ourselves so wise! The error crept in from the translation. Dragons are neither male nor female, Barth saw the truth of that, but now one and now the other, as changeable as flame. The language misled us all for a thousand years. [...] The dragons prove it.”

Many have taken this quote as evidence that High Valyrian is a language without grammatical gender (and for those who are as baffled by that interpretation as I was, I swear, it’s true! Go to the forums and ask around). This quote proves nothing of the kind.

First, what Maester Aemon is talking about here is not grammatical gender but biological gender. In our own world, there are animals that can actually change their gender from male to female, or vice versa (see, for example, the clownfish). Often this happens to aid reproduction. Presumably, dragons in the universe of Ice and Fire are the same—that is, dragons that are, at the moment, male or female, will switch to another gender if it’s required for some reason (this has yet to be revealed).

The part where language comes into this is that the prophecy referred to is originally delivered in High Valyrian, and it refers to a prince. The translation he’s talking about, though, is the translation to Common (i.e. English) which uses the word “prince”, which is male. The assumption, then, was that if that translation caused confusion, it’s because the High Valyrian word can refer to either gender, and, as a result, High Valyrian is genderless.

Not so. First, grammatical gender need not be tied to biological gender (and, indeed, High Valyrian’s genders are not). Second, think for a moment. English is a gender neutral language. We have gendered third person singular pronouns, but outside of that, English has no grammatical genders the way Spanish, French and Italian do. “Prince” is grammatically gender neutral. Semantically, though, it’s male, just as the words “man”, “bachelor”, “father” and “son” are. That these words exist says nothing about the grammatical gender system of English.

So, all this says about High Valyrian is that the word originally used in the prophecy that was translated as “prince” in Common (i.e. English) can refer to either gender (e.g. the way “scientist” can refer to either gender in English). Maester Aemon, here, is commenting on how the assumption, given the context, was that the one prophesied must be male, because this is something that is presumably common in Westeros society (kind of like it still is in ours. Take a random sampling of 100 people and see how many still first think of a man when they hear the word “scientist”)—but, crucially, that it need not be so. That is all this quote is evidence of; it says nothing whatever about the gender system of High Valyrian.

Okay, I should wrap this up. As one more final note, I like to keep it to Game of Thrones here, but if you have some time tonight (or tomorrow night, if you’re outside North America), see if you can tune into the series premiere of Defiance on Syfy at 9/8 Central. I’ve been working really hard for over a year on the series, and the finished product is something everyone involved is really proud of. I’d be delighted if folks would give it a chance, as I think it has a chance to be something really special.

Fonas chek!

Update: Forgot to mention: I’m doing an AMA over at Reddit tomorrow at 6 Eastern.

Por la Gente

A while back, frequent commenter Esploranto mentioned that it would be nice if some of the posts on the Dothraki blog could be translated into Spanish. I agreed, but didn’t feel up to the task (my writing style is too idiomatic and idiosyncratic for my Spanish to handle!), so Esploranto offerred to give it a go. He translated a couple of the early blog posts before I realized that there was no simple way to host translations. What would be perfect is if there was a button that you could click on to easily switch between the English and Spanish translations of a given blog post.

That’s when my old friend from elementary, junior high and high school stepped in. Ian Byrd (founder of and a gifted education instructor) saw the problem and took it upon himself to create a custom WordPress plugin (which, if you’re me, sounds like nothing less than sorcery). As a results, translations can now be handled pretty much just as I described: You go to the top and click on the translation you want, and it automagically appears! (Wow. WordPress doesn’t think “automagic” is misspelled? No, wait, hang on: It thinks “automagically” is fine; “automagic”, though, gets a big fat red underline. Crazy!)

Anyway, to see it in action, you can go to my very first post and see the translation provided by Esploranto, upon whom I have conferred the Dothraki name Najahho: the victorious one. Kirimvose, zhey Najahho!

Of course, there’s no reason that the Dothraki blog need be translated only into Spanish. Any and all translations are welcome—including conlang translations! It’s pretty easy to add a language to the plugin, so I can expand the list to include whatever I want. If you’d like to translate a Dothraki blog post, just send the translation in a plain text e-mail to me (or attach a .txt file). If possible, please keep the HTML in tact (it will simplify my job greatly). Provided it looks okay, I can just paste it right in and we’ll be set! Oh, but do include the phrase “Translated by [your name]” in your language to append to the end, and if you’d like me to link to your website, include a link for me and I’ll add it.

Just one note before leaving the topic: Right now the plugin has one kink in it which has broken the right-hand navigation slightly. All the options are there, but they’re not as neat as they were. Ian’s working on a fix, and when we get it, we’ll be sailing.

If it’s morning where you are when you’re reading this, it means that I’m on a plane headed to Seattle for NorWesCon. Can’t wait! If you’re in the Seattle area, come give me a shout. Otherwise…three days. Tick tock.

Akat Dalen Senthi!

I was getting real tired of pulling up this blog and seeing a picture of me, so…new post!

Happy New Year!

For those who have been following this blog for a year, you may remember the resolution I made around this time last year. At the time, Dothraki had about 3,300 words, and I said in one calendar year I’d get Dothraki’s vocab up to 5,000 words. Before addressing my progress on that, let me affirm that this was an achievable goal. It really was! When I started Dothraki, I had 1,700 words in about three months. True, I had a lot of time on my hands, but that was three months: This was an entire year! So I maintain that going from 3,300 words to 5,000 words was a more than reasonable goal.

That said, I came nowhere close. Nooooooooowhere close.

By midnight on January 1st, Dothraki had 3,621 words. So given that I was probably underestimating how many words Dothraki had in that post from January 1st, 2012, I’m guessing that means I coined about 300 words of Dothraki in 2012—or about 18% of the words I resolved to coin.

Of course, in the time-honored tradition of American New Year’s resolutions, I’ve got a whole host of excuses to offer for failing to accomplish my New Year’s resolution. For starters, it was a year that ends in a 2, which is always bad luck (it’s true. Google it). Second, if you add up the number of words I coined for all the languages I was working on, I think I made out pretty good!

  1. Dothraki: 300
  2. High Valyrian: 585
  3. Other Game of Thrones Vocab: 340
  4. Irathient (for Defiance): 1,927
  5. Castithan (for Defiance): 1,372
  6. Other Defiance Vocab: 300
  7. Other Project: 217

And if you total that up, it comes to 5,041. Not too bad! See, I figure if I have more time on my hands, I can focus and really beef up Dothraki’s vocabulary. Unfortunately that’s probably not going to happen any time soon, so I’m going to make a more modest New Year’s resolution. Here it is: I will create more Dothraki vocabulary this year than I did last year. I think I can do it! And if I do, Dothraki will be at 4,000 by year’s end!

In the meantime, my apologies for completely falling flat on my old New Year’s resolution. But look out for this year’s annual haiku competition coming soon!

Winter Goat 2012

After poring over several thousand copies of the eight goat pictures I received, I have settled upon four candidates that have earned the right to claim the title “Winter Goat, 2012″! Those images, submitted by readers of this blog, are presented below:

A picture of a goat.

Dorvi #1 (Photo by Hrakkar)

Another picture of a goat.

Dorvi #2 (Photo by Hrakkar)

Yet another picture of a goat.

Dorvi #3 (Photo by Hrakkar)

And one last picture of a goat or goat-shaped ornament.

Dorvi #4 (Photo by Qvaak)

(Note: The live goat pictures from above come from the Sierra Safari Zoo in Reno, Nevada. Stop in if you get the chance!)

There it is: The full line-up for Winter Goat, 2012! To cast your vote, leave a comment below. I was going to set up a really cool poll and use that for voting, but I give up. I’ll get it to work later, lousy edavrasakh

In other news around the conlanging world, an article was published in The New Yorker today on my good friend John Quijada, the creator of Ithkuil. I got to hear this story as it unfolded over the course of the past few years, and I think this is a pretty good summation. I definitely recommend it.

In the article it’s mentioned that “Dothraki is now heard by more people each week than Yiddish, Navajo, Inuit, Basque, and Welsh combined”, as if this meant anything one way or another. On this, I’ll only say that Inuit is not the name of a language, though if you ever want to look at a wonderfully fascinating language, I recommend Inuvialuktun (I’ve got a grammar of it that I did not steal from the UCSD library [I returned that copy (eventually)]).

Fonas chek!

2011 Conlang Card Exchange

For the past three years, a number of conlangers have participated in the Conlang/Concultural Card Exchange. I participated the first year with Kamakawi, but missed the deadline the next year, so I wanted to be sure to participate this year (though I still almost missed the deadline). For this year’s exchange, I decided to use Dothraki, and I thought this would be as good a place as any to post the translation info for my card.

First, here’s what the front of the postcard looks like:

A picture of a donkey.

Click to enlarge.

And here’s a shot of the back of the postcard:

The back of my Conlang/Cultural Card Exchange card (2011).

Click to enlarge.

(Note: That’s the LCS’s address, not mine. Don’t send mail there unless it’s accompanied by a $35 membership check made out to “LCS” [by the way, with the holidays around the corner, why not give the gift of LCS membership! Okay, plug over].)

Now, when I made these up with Costco, they gave me a character count, and I swear I came under that character count! But, as you can see, the text got cut off—literally. In fact, there was one more line after what you see there (I’d signed it Devvo ki Drogosi. Oh well). So you don’t have to go squinting, here is the entire text (plus the missing line):

Aheshke ray jad, majin anha vazhak yeraan azh, hajinaan m’anha chomak yeraan sekke. Jin vezh hrazef avervenanaz drogikhoon anni. Yer laz tihi mae mra jerve she hatif. Me drozhak! Tihas vorsaes tihoa ma charas tem fogoon! Ma me lana ven chaf! K’athjilari: Vo cheyi ven mae vekho vosecchi. Ma me yeri! Vezhof gora ha yeraan. Me nem nesa.

Fonas chek!

Devvo ki Drogosi

Now, I don’t want the card recipients to jump through too many hoops, so here’s an interlinear (though this won’t be pretty. Does CSS do small caps yet…?):

/winter already come.PST and 1SG.NOM FUT-give-1SG 2SG.ALL gift.ACC because COMP-1SG.NOM respect-1SG 2SG.ALL very. this stallion horse SUP-wild-SUP herd-ABL 1SG.GEN. 2SG.NOM can see-2SG 3SG.ACC in cage at front. 3SG.NOM killer! see-IMP fire-ACC eye-ABL.PL and hear-IMP thunder.ACC hoof-ABL! and 3SG.NOM run-3SG like wind! truly: NEG bay-GEN like 3SG.GEN exist-3SG.NEG NEG.EMPH. and 3SG.NOM 2SG.GEN! horse.god charge-3SG for 2SG.ALL. 3SG.NOM PASS know-3SG./

/hunt-IMP well!/

/Dave by Drogo-GEN/

Or better yet: Have they made a WordPress plugin for interlinears yet? Any conlangers out there who are big into WordPress and coding? (Think that’s what we need to get this done…)

Anyway, there you have it! Translation shouldn’t be tough (remember that the ablative expresses inalienable possession and that it’s only optionally expressed). Feel free to post your translation in the comments, and I’ll tell you how you did.

Also, I ordered 10 cards, since I thought that’d be a good round number, but I have three leftover. I thought I’d have a contest and give away the remaining three, but that would involve you giving me your address, so I thought I’d better make it voluntary. So! If you would like a card, and if you’re comfortable giving me a mailing address you have access to, e-mail me at “dave” at-sign “” and let me know. I’ll send them out to the first three people that e-mail me with addresses, and I’ll personalize them somehow in what little space there is left on the card.

Fonas chek, zhey lajaki!

Update: All the cards have been claimed. Perhaps there will be more next year, or for some other holiday (do the Dothraki celebrate Flag Day…?). Who knows? These, though, are being sent out to stud. But let me tell you: If there is a next time, ain’t nothing getting cut off—I’ll make sure of that!

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